Thursday, March 3, 2022

Government Grant Enables Container Port to Step Up to the Digital Challenge

5G Testbed Operational to Save on Costs and Safety on the Quayside
Shipping News Feature

UK – As detailed in our article in January the Port of Felixstowe says it has successfully installed a 5G network after receiving grant funding under the 5G Testbeds and Trials programme run by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The project aims to prove 5G capabilities in a busy port environment.

The project seeks to deliver on two use cases, i.e. predictive maintenance of quay cranes using Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, and providing communications for remote control yard cranes. Shippers and hauliers will have fingers crossed that the installation is more successful than the debacle which ensued after the country’s largest container port last made a major technical investment.

After that case in 2018, the port had to offer a series of apologies when the installation of its own nGen port operating system continued failing to work correctly, despite the same system having proved reliable any times in other Hutchison controlled facilities globally, yet the problems in Suffolk persisted for many months.

This latest project has been facilitated with other consortium members, Three UK, Blue Mesh Solutions and the University of Cambridge and has the potential to actively improve both performance and safety when all features have been fully explored. Prof Ajith Parlikad, Professor of Asset Management at the University of Cambridge, explained:

“We will harness the speed, low-latency and high-capacity of 5G to send the high volumes of data generated by the IoT sensors for an Artificial Intelligence based predictive maintenance system. This system will be able to detect anomalies in the cranes and alert the operators so that preventive maintenance can be targeted at these areas before the failure actually happens.”

Three UK obviously have vast experience in harnessing the communications aspect of the new technology and are confident the system is the way forward for ports and terminals of the future, with Steve Wylie, Head of Corporate Sales, Three UK, saying:

“The Port of Felixstowe already operates remote control quay cranes and yard cranes. Traditional methods of communicating to CCTV needed for remote control have limitations on bandwidth and flexibility for extension across the port. 5G and its unique low latency and high throughput capabilities make it the optimum technology to power remote control and support the port’s long term growth objectives.”

The initiative within the port is being headed up by Karen Poulter, Head of Information Services as the 5G Project Lead who explained how the availability of equipment is integral to port operations saying routine maintenance is an absolute necessity but can restrict equipment availability. She continued:

“As part of the 5G project, six quay cranes are being fitted with IoT Sensors to understand the stresses and strains placed on them by day-to-day operation. Using 5G to transmit the data enables these systems to operate in real-time which could enable ‘in the moment’ safety-critical applications.

“Using the data generated by the IoT sensors and linking it to the actual activity on the crane together with previous maintenance records, Cambridge University is developing an algorithm to predict equipment failure and suggest the optimum time to maintain the equipment.”

The algorithm used will maximise the amount of time cranes are in use and will reduce the cost associated with emergency repairs and day-to-day maintenance. The 5G network can handle the huge volume of data collected which will be used to train the algorithm at levels that wouldn’t be sustainable over 4G. Richard Brooks, Managing Director, Blue Mesh Solutions said:

“5G allows IoT systems to operate in a denser and more data rich environment. Combining modern sensors with IoT technology to manage data backhaul allows data to be used in new ways, such as combining the sensors with Artificial Intelligence algorithms to search for inferences in data that are hidden from standard analysis methods.

”Building these ‘Digital Twins’ is the future of computer and engineering science and 5G is an enabling technology. Personally, it’s exciting for our small company to be working on such a thought leading and technically challenging project with world leaders in global port management, telecommunications and engineering research.”

The project is due to complete in September 2022. Significant work has already been undertaken at the Three lab to test the 5G network against these use cases. Increasing traffic will now utilise the network and prove its capabilities to simultaneously manage the two use-cases and to support the business- critical activities of the port. Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez concluded:

“It's incredible to see our £200 million investment in innovative 5G tech is empowering Britain’s biggest and busiest container port to explore new ways of driving efficiency, improving safety and supporting the UK's post-Brexit status as a global trading nation. 5G has huge potential to revolutionise a wide range of UK industries and 5G Ports is just one testbed the government is funding to help achieve this."

Photo: 5G technology provides the communications for remote-controlled yard cranes at the Port